Enforcement of fines for misuse of Covid certs ‘not clear’, Policing Authority says

Report notes images of policing of violence in June caused ‘reputational damage’ for Dublin

Garda public order unit on South William Street, Dublin on June 6th. Photograph:  Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Garda public order unit on South William Street, Dublin on June 6th. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

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The lifting of Covid-19 restrictions will create major issues for An Garda Síochána in coming months, with increased public expectations and complicated rules, the Policing Authority has warned.

“The process of lifting restrictions, while being alive to the very real dangers of the virus, is filled with complications, not least of these is what we hope might happen,” said the body’s chair Bob Collins.

A lack of clarity exists around the regulations gardaí will follow if they are to have a role in the operation of the State’s digital Covid-19 certificates, the authority’s latest survey of Garda performance said.

Under the certificates plan, fines of up €4,000, or one month in jail can be levied on anyone who disobeys the rules, or tries to produce forged or fraudulent certificates.

“It is not clear at this point how this will be enforced,” said the authority, which oversees the performance of the Garda in relation to policing services. Equally, indoor diners and pub-goers must produce proof of vaccination, or show that they have immunity, but, again, the regulations are not yet known.

The first lockdown “had something of simplicity about it”, where rules were “unambiguously clear, easily understood and supported by a universal sense of anxiety,” said Mr Collins.

Sometimes, inaccurate social media postings and the public’s understanding impact on how the gardaí’s work “is perceived, as well as on how it may be felt, by the population or by sections of it”, he went on.

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“There is, too, a tendency to have exaggerated expectations of what gardaí can do; an assumption that they have powers of intervention well beyond what the law, even in emergency provisions, allows,” he said.

Businesses, however, will need to rely on the gardaí, local councils or other bodies to help them operate the so-called Covid-19 passports, especially in hospitality. It noted concerns from the hospitality industry that the type of regulations breaches seen in shops, such as the refusal to wear masks or socially distance, may spread to pubs and restaurants.

A strong view was expressed by organisations representing businesses that the call for gardaí to use discretion during this time was “unfair on gardaí and likely to result in inconsistent policing”.

Examples were given of cases where gardaí had robustly enforced rules banning public drinking, “while hours later the same behaviour by members of the public drew no response from gardaí”, the report said.

Challenges facing the Garda since the last report included the June bank holiday weekend where “significant public order incidents” took place in Dublin city centre.

Retail and hospitality businesses believed “the trouble that erupted had been brewing for weeks”, and that there had been “insufficient” engagement ahead of the weekend between the council, gardaí and businesses. Better planning and the earlier enforcement of restrictions against those businesses who were not obeying public health regulations “might have averted what happened”.

Some of the images of policing over the weekend caused “reputational damage for the city” and “contributed to people’s unease at coming to town”, the report goes on.

Businesses believed that images of gardaí wearing public order policing equipment was “damaging for business, tourism, investment and the confidence and sense of safety of people to come in and enjoy the city”.

More than 800 fixed charge notices (FCNs) for breaches of Covid restrictions have been imposed since early May. Most were issued in May, while 76 were issued in June and just three in the first week of July.

The FCNs in June or July were for breaches of international travel rules ahead of the July 19th easing, the holding of unauthorised events and non-wearing of face coverings.

There were 129 breaches relating to international travel between May 9th and this report. Those aged 18-25 received the highest number of fines, while 74 per cent were issued to males.